The colossal statue of the river Nile, one of the masterpieces of the Vatican Museums, was unearthed in 1513 in the Campo Marzio, where it may have formed part of the Iseum Campense, a twin temple that was dedicated to the Egyptian deities Isis and Serapis.
The Nile is personified as a muscular and bearded figure, holding ears of wheat in his right hand. Egypt, who is symbolised by a sphinx, was seen as one of the bread baskets of the Roman empire.
The scene is enlivened by sixteen putti, who allude to the sixteen cubits of water by which the Nile rises for its annual flood.
The statue can be found in the Braccio Nuovo (New Wing) of the Museo Chiaramonti, which was designed by the Roman architect Raffaele Stern (1774-1820) for Pope Pius VII (r. 1800-1823).
My name is David Lown and I am an art historian from Cambridge, England. Since 2001 I have lived in Italy, where I run private walking tours of Rome.
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